Shouldn’t brand purpose be about more than social value?

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Design Week asked me to comment on whether companies can truly have a positive impact on people’s lives, and if so, which succeed at doing so. Here’s what I said.

“There is growing interest in ethical brands, but while these used to be niche and socially-driven, today ethical branding is a popular commercial strategy and customers are realising they need to interrogate the authenticity of these ethical promises. Branding professionals need to question it, too.

I turn ‘products’ into ‘brands’ every day, so I take issue with the term ‘brand purpose’ being hijacked to mean any socially-motivated activity. My work is about core ‘brand purpose’, which means the purpose of the brand and its strategy — this might focus on functional value, psychological value, intellectual value, or social value, which must be fully embraced internally by the company to be authentic.

Ethics alone won’t make for a successful brand if the product doesn’t deliver functionally, as consumers are savvy when it comes to spending money. So, while ethical brands should be applauded (and ideally, should be the norm), as branding and design professionals, let’s be cautious of the fashion for ethical. Don’t feel it has to be the core purpose and stop saying ‘brand purpose’ if you actually mean social value.

Right now, my favourite brand is Boston Tea Party, a café chain in the south of England that delivers on all fronts, from functional to social. I value it as a community meeting space, I admire its campaign against single-use plastic, but most of all, I go back for the delicious sweetcorn hash.”

See the whole article here.